I need to go on record here. I am a bit disappointed with myself. Here I was a member of the Cascade Bike Club in Washington State, a club that had a Major Taylor ride every year. But, until I read this book, I had NO idea who Major Taylor was! I know who he was now, and this was an excellent book…
As you can see from the photo, the subtitle is: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor. America’s First Black Sports Hero. Another confession, before reading this, I didn’t know Major Taylor was a real person….
Normally when I review a book, I give my rating at the end. This time though I am changing this up. This is MORE than a 5 star book, it was truly amazing.
First off, it was an easy and fun read. Mr Kranish has a style that makes you want to keep reading. Some non-fiction books, even about cyclists, can be tedious. Mr Kranish made it interesting from the first chapter to the last. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. In all honesty, it was so well written, even a non cyclist would enjoy this book.
When I bought this, I was ready to learn about Major Taylor, one of the first African Americans to excel (at least excel in the eyes of the mostly white American public) in sports.
What I didn’t realize was that in addition to learning about Major Taylor himself, I would also learn about the glory days of cycling as well as the true horror of the treatment African Americans suffered at the turn of the 20th century…
Let’s start with cycling…
In the late 1800s and very early 1900s cycling was king. There were no cars yet. To buy a horse, let alone feed and care for it. was too expensive for the normal person. Bicycles on he other hand, ate nothing and allowed people to travel farther than they had ever done before. With so many people owning one, the exploits of bicycle racers were the talk of the town/
We learn of Louis de Frankin (Bridie) Munger. He was one of the first record holders of speed for 2 wheel pedal devices in America. He was a velocipede racer.
He also road one across the USA before there were roads across the county. He pushed and carried the bike as often or more than he road. His exploits were followed more closely than that of the Kardashions today.
Soon though, with newer bikes and his age creeping up, he stopped racing. However, he discovered. Marshall “Major” Taylor. A young African American cyclist. As one of the rare people who looked past race back then, he realized Major Taylor could and would be a cycling force to reckoned with! He sponsored him and fought for his right to race!
With many people owning bikes, all bike events were major draws. There were 6 day rides, where cyclist would try to ride as many miles, all indoors, in the 6 day time frame. They would sleep so little, they would be hallucinating on the bikes or just fall over asleep while riding (Teddy Rosevelt banned these races in New York due to the danger) There were sprints while drafting behind 5 person tandem bikes, and even behind motorized bicycles. Not to mention just straight up 1 mile sprints on velodromes!
Shoot, one guy even laid planks on rail road tracks and drafted a train to be able to reach 60 mph! A mile a minute! The bike was king at the time in history!
However, I need to speak of truly regretful state of race relations at the time. Major Taylor’s dad fought for the north in the Civil War. Yet, almost 40 years later, a truly talented athlete, who happened to be born with darker skin. has to fight battles just to compete.
While the white cyclist could train all winter in the south, Taylor had to worry about being lynched. He was banned from hotels, restaurants, and even cycling velodromes due to his race. And on the track, the white riders would conspire time and again to gang up on him for ‘daring’ to ride with them.
Let me just say, he kicked their combined asses more than he lost!
was so much better than he was treated at home, that we should still be ashamed of ourselves.
The book follows him through his life as he proves himself again and again against all comers on the cycling sprint track. No one could touch him in these races.
Even after marrying the love of his life Daisy, and having a daughter Sydney
He still took on and conquered any and all challengers world wide. There is no question he was a cycling stud beyond anything we see today. He refused any drugs or alcohol, and dedicated his life to being the fastest man in the world.
Sadly, no one can wind the race with time. As he aged, he finally had to stop racing. Being almost 55 myself and a cyclist, these chapters resonated strongly with me. His glory days were over. He wanted to ride more, but his body just wasn’t able to perform. Who knows when I will reach this point.
He died alone, poor, and off the bike. Nothing could be sadder. But this man did everything he could to prove cycling knows no race! The bike is a great equalizer, and anyone who thinks differently does not deserve to ride.
After reading this book, I will add Marshall “Major” Taylor to the list of historical figures I wish I could meet.
If you want a great read this summer, read this book!